Why Are Companies Reluctant to Spend Money on a Good Domain?

Why Are Companies Reluctant to Spend Money on a Good Domain?

The last article on “Underpinning Domain Sales” sparked an interesting discussion on the domain forum, NamePros. One of the respondents asked the question, “Why are companies reluctant to spend money on a good domain?” In this article, I hope to answer that question.

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In my opinion, the dominant reason businesses don’t spend money on domain names is because of ignorance. On the whole the domain industry has not been able to mobilise itself and communicate cooperatively to businesses about the importance of domain names. I’d like to unpack this a little further.

The biggest problem has always been the question of whom should put up the PR/Marketing money to generate interest and understanding in domains. Some people point to the registries, others the registrars while others say the current domain owners should all chip in. These discussiona often degenerate into name-calling and a lot of inaction.

What domain investors need to appreciate is that once they have purchased a domain name the registries and the registrars have effectively done their job. There is NO incentive for them to try and market on behalf of existing owners to increase the demand for already registered domains so the price goes up. That’s an almost impossible job.

The job of registries and registrars are to convince existing owners to renew and to get new registrations from wherever they can. On the whole, new gTLD registries have been excellent at selling their product to the domain investor constituency based on scarcity. “If you don’t buy this domain you’ll miss out like you did in the .com rush.”

Once a domain investor has purchased a domain then there is a great reluctance to drop it as the domain may represent a significant windfall someday in the future. Essentially the registries and registrars are selling hope. By the way, I actually don’t have any problem with this as long as investors go in with their eyes wide open.

Once invested, many domain owners then turn to the registries for help in offloading their assets at significantly higher prices. You quite often hear at conferences statements like, “If I was running that new gTLD then I would……” Well, you don’t run the registry so stop wishing you did and work on the problems that you can actually work on. This is a bit of tough love but stop complaining and don't expect someone else to bail you out.

All of us would agree that .CLUB is a reasonably successful registry with an awesome team. Let’s imagine for a second they spent $20m or near enough to 100% of their revenue on marketing. CLUB (back of envelop calculations here) to help existing domain owners. Despite .CLUB being regarded as fantastic marketers they will be the first to admit that $20m is about 2% of what they really need to do a proper ongoing global marketing campaign.

What I'm saying is the best the industry has doesn't have the fire power to move the needle in educating the entire world about the value of domains. What they can do and actually do is target their efforts to maximise registrations and renewals.....this doesn't involve educating corporations.

So here’s the bottom line with registries and registrars. They love you registering and renewing your domains. They aren’t going to spend a huge amount so cash (even if they did have it) trying increase the price of your domains. In the case of .com if you drop a domain it’s likely to be picked up in a second. ccTLDs aren’t typically profit motivated and have other objectives while the new gTLDs don’t have the cash.

This leaves you to market and promote your own domains. It also means you need to focus your efforts and really think about how you’re going to educate your target market rather than sell. You’re fighting largely against ignorance…..so once you get over that hurdle what’s the next one?

We live in a market that has a MASSIVE supply issue. The new gTLDs are inevitably eroding the power associated with incumbent TLDs and in the process, have devalued the entire market (top end .com excepted). If I’m a new business, why would I pay thousands of dollars for a domain when I don’t know whether I’ll exist in 6 months’ time? I’ll just grab a new gTLD, it’s not like there is a shortage of them.

If I’m an existing business, then why would I spend a bucket of cash on a domain name when I can just use something I paid $10 for. I could save the money on the domain and put it towards marketing the product or service I’m trying to sell.

Yes, we know the importance of a good domain name because we are in the industry. Your task is to imperically prove it. You can’t just tell someone to spend $100K because they should….you have to give them hard cold evidence.

Here’s your next problem. The whole point of a domain name is that it’s unique….one of a kind and the reason the buyer needs it. The first thing most people do is bring out comparables…..which undermine the whole value proposition of uniqueness. I’ve always believed this strategy is flawed.....so I'd try to think through this a little more.

So why don’t companies spend money on domains? It’s sad to say but it’s largely ignorance combined the domain owner’s lack of skill to make a compelling case. If there is no business case, then there won’t be a sale.

There are some exceptions to this rule where a wealthy individual just “want a particular domain” and will pay anything for it. These are lucky events and should be grabbed with both hands.

The essential point is unless you are prepared to spend the time putting together the business case then don’t expect companies to want to buy your domains. I will go one step further…..you also have to pick up the phone at some point and present the case to the prospective buyer….ideally this is done face to face.

I should also mention the last reason why companies don’t spend money on domains. Because they’re doing other stuff and domains are complicated. Just think about it, should the marketing, IT, or legal department manage the asset once purchased? An internal champion in a large organisation would inevitably throw their hands up in the air and move onto buying another TV spot.

This is definitely a question your business case needs to answer and it had better be the market department or you’ll end up getting a sale worth pennies.

I know that I’ve rambled a little in this article but I hope that it answers the central question posed in the title. Feel free to poke and prod some of my suppositions with any comments.

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Do the Domain Sales Numbers Stack Up?

Do the Domain Sales Numbers Stack Up?

I thought that I’d take a break from the series on “Building a Business” and examine what underpins the domain sales market. There are a huge number of domain investors that have bought into the market purely to sell their assets onwards…..so is this a sensible thing to do?

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In my investigation into the domain sales space I thought I’d first of all outline the two fundamental domain sales business models.

Domains as Stock Items

Stock item domains are those that sell for sub $2,500 and represent around 87% of domain sales by volume. The goal here is to move greater numbers of domains and NOT necessarily increase the sales price. The business focus is therefore to increase the stock-turn from 0.3% to say 0.6% of your domains per year….it’s all about speed and automation of transactions.

Think of these domains as the fast food end of the industry….so many people make the mistake of trying to sell their burgers at high end French restaurant prices. Not surprisingly they don't make any sales.

This business model is the bread and butter for companies like Afternic and Sedo who have done whatever they can to get wholesale domains exposed to potential buyers. You really need to have your domains listed in both these major marketplaces if you are to maximise your ROI for this business model. There are other markets but they are substantially smaller.

High Value Domain Sales

High value domains are typically single word .com or prominent ccTLDs (eg. .de, co.uk). There have been a few new gTLD sales for high value and this will increase as adoption of the new gTLDs become more widely accepted.

It should be noted that only about 1% of domain sales are over $50,000 in size. So the next time you try and push a buyer up over this amount you’re really in the stratosphere as far as typical domain sales are concerned.

 

So who wins in the domain sales market? The registries, registrars and governing bodies all get their fees when domains are renewed or first registered. The marketplaces take a commission on each sale and the buyer secures their long-lost domain. The seller…..well in some cases they win but not always.

Back in 2013 Sedo produced a wonderful infographic that outlined Sedo domain name sales and the fact that they conducted $70.5m for 37,241 domains. This provided an average $1893 per sale and a median of $577.

So why am I reviewing this bit of history? Let’s imagine Sedo did around $100m in 2016 and I think I’m pretty safe guessing they are about 33% of the market. Afternic is the other 33% with everyone else (private sales included) are the remaining third. This means the total domain sales aftermarket industry is around $300m per year. This is not big by global standards.

What’s interesting is that it also means that around 100,000 domains are sold each year in the aftermarket. Given there are approximately 340 million domains registered in the world these sales represent about 0.03% of the total domain market.

If all of the averages play out and you have a portfolio of 1,000 domains, then you should hope to sell 0.31 domains per year at an average price of $1893. This means your average revenue line will be $584 per year. Assuming an expense line of $10,000 for your renewals you are a long way short of the mark.

To have a profitable business you need to believe that your domains are 17.12 times higher quality than the average in the world. I calculated this by taking the direct costs of $10,000 and dividing it by the expected average revenue line of $584 for the year. This of course assumes domains are re-registered each year due to economically rational reasons…..which is not always the case.

The Belief Gap

If you sold $5,000 last year then your domains are only half as good as the average in terms of quality. On the other hand, if you sold $20,000 then your domains are on average twice as high quality than the average. There are a lot of questions in here such as, did you sell one domain at $20,000 and received no offers on any others……but let’s stick with the averages for now.

I should also state up front that I’m ignoring the cost of your time. Sadly, most people ignore this cost and continue to run their businesses more like a hobby.

So why do domain investors hold onto their stock? I’ve concluded that many people approach domains as something on the side which they hope will blossom into a lottery sized windfall one day.

It’s so easy to read about huge domain sales and hope that if you just hold on a little longer than it will happen to you. Hope is a very dangerous thing if  you've just mortgaged your house to take “advantage” of the domain opportunity.

So why am I laying out these numbers? Have I decided to become a cosmic killjoy and rain on everyone’s parade? No….but I hope to bring a dose of reality. Domain sales is a really tough game and if you are new to this industry then don’t expect to make an instant killing.

If you’ve been sitting with a portfolio of domains and wondering why you can’t make ends meet, then just do the maths. I hate to say it but the market has valued your domains and most of them should be dropped. Why renew something for the last ten years if you’ve never received an offer?

What the larger portfolio owners believe is their expertise combined with scale will allow them to become profitable. Along the way, they also get other income streams from their domains (eg. revenue from traffic) that help cover some of the renewal fees. Even still, many of the more skilled industry players have been reducing the size of their portfolio to remain profitable.

Ultimately, the question that every portfolio owner needs to answer is whether they are 17.12 times smarter than the average domain purchaser. By the way…..as I’ve outlined above, this is one of those cases where you can actually measure how good you are.

If you come up short, then think about getting a mentor who has a lot more experience in the industry than you do. It could be the best investment you’ve ever made and either save or make you a lot of money.

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Saturday Musings - What's Your Goal?

Saturday Musings - What's Your Goal?

My wife Roselyn and I have fallen in love with New Zealand and more specifically Queenstown which is situated in the mountains of the South Island. Looking around the incredible vistas is like stepping into The Misty mountains from “The Lord of the Rings” middle earth.....it's stunning.

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While walking around the township we discovered a hiking business that takes people on a five day walk from Queenstown, across the mountains and down into Milford Sound. For those of you unfamiliar with Milford Sound, it’s one of the most picturesque, unspoilt places on the Earth with waterfalls cascading thousands of feet into the ocean, wales, dolphins, and soaring mountain ranges. All good!

We’re pretty excited about going on the hike in just under two years’ time (we’re doing a lot of other already planned travel this year) but there’s one problem. We need to get a LOT fitter. To paraphrase Borimir from Lord of the Rings, “One simply does not walk into Milford Sound through the mountains. There’s ups, downs, river crossings and a host of other obstacles in the way.”

So we have a goal…..lose weight (which is a good thing) and get a lot fitter. Goals can be like New Year’s resolutions that are forgotten after the first week or you can choose to take them seriously.

Roselyn hiking in the fern gladeWe’ve now bought hiking boots and enough gear to make us feel a little adventurous. Our first hike was a few kilometres in the rain through a fern forest in the hills outside of Melbourne. We’re walking, riding or rowing machining every day to increase our stamina. The goal of the Milford track is inspiring us to get fit (which is always a good thing) and to get healthier.

Like our personal hiking goal every business needs to have goals to strive for. Whether it be the launch of a new product, a financial hurdle to strive for or getting a new client onboard. It’s healthy to have a target that you and your business can be measured against. In fact, I would go as far as to say that a business without a vision/goal is already in a state of decay.

So what’s the goal for your business and are you taking it seriously? Many people have lofty goals but few people actually put legs on them by taking the first steps forward. For Roselyn and I, we’re watching what we eat and doing “stuff”.

It could be that your first step is to pick up the telephone and call a perspective buyer for a domain you own. Whatever it is you need to do I can guarantee that your journey into the unknown will be like Frodo crossing the boundaries of your “Shire” and into the wilds of adventure.

Have a great weekend!

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Part 3 – Building a Business – The Pitch

Part 3 – Building a Business – The Pitch

In Part 2 of this series you’ve expressed your passion to me about your new business idea. I’ve seen a prototype built out of bits of cardboard stuck together with glue and although it doesn’t do anything you’ve sold the vision. So what’s next?

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I love passion but passion combined with a plan leads to action. At this stage, I’m after a one page summary document. I want to see whether you have the wherewithal to be able to synthesize your entire business onto a single page.

Before you tell me that’s impossible, Rupert Murdoch, founder of billion-dollar global international company News Limited, receives a one page summary every day that summarises his businesses across the world. If Rupert can do it then I’m sure you can.

So what’s on this page?

  • The product/service in a maximum of two sentences.
  • What problem is it solving and for which target market?
  • How will you reach the target market?
  • Financial opportunity
  • What will it take to secure the opportunity?
  • Who is currently involved?

Assuming I’m still interested then I will next ask you to present a summary deck of slides which dive a little deeper into the opportunity. I will work under the assumption that the dozen or so slides are backed up with a rigorous analysis which can be quickly accessed in an appendix.

Amongst other things, I’m wanting to drill down into any existing financials you may have. If I see a great big liability in the balance sheet you can be sure that I’ll ask what it is so please don’t try and cover it up.

If it’s a loan to shareholders then don’t be surprised when I suggest that it be forgiven…..the reason why you are raising capital upon a certain valuation is because of that input. Either that or massively drop your valuation. The whole point of putting cash into a fledgling business is to help it grow, not to pay back debts!

So what’s going to be on the slides?

  1. What is your vision and value? What are you trying to achieve?
  2. What problem you are solving and why this is important?
  3. Who is your target market? You can describe this as John Smith who is struggling with….. Or do a full market analysis of the potential
  4. The solution you are bringing to the market to solve its problems.
  5. How are you going to make money from your offering? What is your position in the competitive landscape? Are you the high-price, high service offering or the low-cost mass market solution?
  6. Do you already have some existing sales or early adopters? Have you proven your offering and are looking for expansion investment/help or are you yet to launch?
  7. What is your marketing and sales strategy? What are the barriers to growth? How long will the sales cycle take? Do you have some winning solution that will beat customers compared to your competitors?
  8. Are there any competitors (there always are) and state why your solution is better. What is your position in the competitive landscape?
  9. The existing team – brief bio on each member
  10. Financial projections and existing sales (if any). It’s important to highlight any key assumptions here.
  11. What is the deal? You are wanting to raise $X for Y% of equity. Investors really would like to see the difference their investment will make to the business and where the investment will be spent.
  12. You may include here what the exit strategy will be? IPO, trade sale etc.

The entire deck should take a maximum of 20-30 minutes to present and each slide should be succinct and to the point. The rest of the meeting with me will be you fielding questions as I prod around the assumptions and come to grips with your product/service.

Remember, I’m not trying to be mean! I’m trying to work out whether putting time into your venture will be a higher return compared to other opportunities.

Other documents you will want to have on-hand.

  • Executive summary page
  • Any technical documentation on the product
  • Detailed financial modelling…..and I mean detailed.
  • Proper market research that describes your target market in detail and who else is playing in the space. A good rule of them is the SWOT Analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats). Think of your venture in these terms.

Some people have pitched for me not to invest cash but my expertise and they’ve wanted me to participate as an advisor. If the business is interesting enough then this may be the first step we take together.

With any investment, whether it be time or money there is always a dating period before a marriage. We both need to more fully understand how we can work together and make the venture successful.

I hope you've found this article worthwhile and that it helps you pitch not just to me but to others that may be interested in investing in your new business.

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Saturday Musings - Attracting Flocks of Customers

Saturday Musings - Attracting Flocks of Customers

About a week ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a bird bath to attract the local birds outside my study window. The bath sits beautifully atop a pedestal and is replete with a turquoise glaze to make the water that much more enticing. I know if I was a bird I would be falling over myself to have a bit of a splash.

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I had visions of a Disney cartoon where birds would be so grateful for my benevolence that they would sit on a branch outside the window and sing me songs all day. After setting the bath up I waited and waited and waited for the birds to come flocking in to enjoy what I’d provided for them. …..boy was I wrong.

Scratching my head, I thought to myself, “Maybe I need to entice them just a little bit more.” So off I went to the kitchen and grabbed a slice of bread to spread crumbs all over the lawn to attract the birds to my yard. They loved the bread but none did anything with the bird bath. Hmmmm….not good.

You would think the stupid birds would realise that I’d setup the bath for their enjoyment! What more do I have to do to get them to use it? To this day, I’ve been trying to think up new ideas to attract my avian customers to the bird bath and not one has used it……sigh……

Isn’t all of this exactly like building an online business? We spend hours with designers and programmers to get the “look and feel” just right and when we eventually launch we wonder why no one uses it.

We finally succumb to enticing customers with special offers, free giveaways and short-term discounts (eg. bread). Not surprisingly, the customers love the freebies but ignore the main offering. Eventually we convince ourselves that customers are stupid and just don’t have any idea of the value you are providing them. Can you see the similarities with my bird bath?

The fact is, the market is actually really smart. The reason why many businesses close is because they don’t have enough cash to carry them through the start-up phase of wooing customers repeatedly to their website. Modern customers rarely buy from an unknown business but will more likely buy if they continually see it….it gives them confidence that the business isn’t about to vanish.

So what do I need to do about the birds? Keep on attracting them with bread and let them get used to the bird bath. I’m just looking forward to the day when the first bird enjoys a dip.

Have a great weekend!

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